Entering last season, the media was pounding Villanova relentlessly with one question “can you get out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament?” … to the point where the regular season hardly seemed to matter. In the end, the Cats advanced to the 2nd Round of the NCAA ... punched Iowa in the face to get to the second weekend ... answered the question once and for all ... then, for good measure, ran over the rest of the field in the tournament on the way to the 2nd National Championship in program history.
This year, the trite, near-mindless question the media is grinding away at is “can you defend your title”? Much to the credit of Jay Wright and his players, they answer the question exactly as they should “we are going to go out everyday, work hard and try to keep getting better every day”. The program has the same approach no matter what the result was in March of the previous season. Last season was last season - time to get to work.
For any team, what inevitably enters the picture when you have great success is increased expectations. The Villanova fan base and those viewing the program from the outside witnessed the championship run and began to think “if they did that once and have so many good players coming back, why can’t they do it again?” … well, not so fast. That tournament run was certainly not easy (despite what the margin of victory in several of the games may indicate). It is not hard to go back and see a handful of plays or calls that could have gone differently and left Wildcat fans once again wondering why sustained superior performance over three regular seasons in the revamped Big East wasn’t translating into NCAA Tournament success.
Over the past three season, the Cats have compiled a gaudy 97-13 (.881) record overall and posted a 53-8 (.869) record in Big East games (regular season and BE Tournament combined). That is now a matter of record. What lies ahead?
The league figures to be more hotly contested this season and Villanova has a very strong out-of-conference schedule which could lead to some bumps and bruises along the way. The “improve as the season progresses” mantra is certainly the correct approach - as is the desire of the team to put last year’s success on the shelf and get back to the grind.
Much of our season preview has been an on-going discussion since July:
Over the past couple weeks, VUSports has taken a close look at each of the 10 scholarship players that is eligible to play this season:
and provided subscribers with an analysis of each Big East program entering the season:
4: Seton Hall
8: St. John's
We also chatted with each of the players at Big East and Villanova Media Days:
and here is some other Big East Media Day Coaches Poll Info as you prep for the season.
To add to the fun, VUSports also provided team observations at events working up to the season:
To round out the coverage, let's break down the schedule and take a look at some of the milestones the team and players could reach or surpass this season.
The schedule will include home and away games with all 9 Big East programs. Villanova has, amazingly, gone 16-2 in each of the last three Big East regular seasons. The Senior class is positioned to become the winningest class ever at any Big East school. To do so, they must earn 13 more wins between the Big East regular season and Tournament combined. This won’t be easy with Xavier (Preseason #7 AP), Creighton (#22 AP), Georgetown, Seton Hall and Butler looking well-stocked with talent and hungry to knock the Cats from their perch atop the standings and most of the other programs on the upswing.
Another feat that the ‘Nova Seniors could accomplish this year would be an unprecedented, four year, 16-0 sweep of the Philly Big Five schedule. Last year, ‘Nova became the first school to post three straight 4-0 sweeps. The opportunity is there for the taking but LaSalle, Temple, SJU(PA), and Penn are going to put up plenty of resistance.
Villanova’s strong out-of-conference schedule also includes a very early season game at preseason, AP #15, Purdue, a neutral court tilt with Notre Dame and a game against preseason #8, Virginia at Wells Fargo Center in January. Other OOC opponents include Lafayette, College of Charleston, American, Western Michigan (at Charleston), and two games in Charleston against teams most likely from this group: UTEP, Wake Forest, Mississippi State, Boise St., and UCF.
If the Cats are to stay ranked in the Top 5 and have a shot at another #1 AP ranking in season, they are going to need to win the early game against Purdue (14 Nov), avoid an upset in the Charleston Tournament (17-20 Nov) and defeat Notre Dame at the Prudential Center on 10 Dec. Yes, one early loss could be “forgiven” by the pollsters and other top programs could suffer some losses as well but, in general, making it to January relatively unscathed is important.
At the end of the day, “inside the ropes” of the Villanova program, those rankings aren’t a goal. They are viewed as a by-product of a commitment to continually improve as the season progresses. The staff and players won’t be concerned with “wins and losses” early in the season so much as with improvement over time.
What should a fan expect when it comes to W/L record for the Cats this coming season?
If you use Kenpom early projections, there is an 83% chance that Villanova will sweep the Big Five. If there is a loss, LaSalle is the most likely loss (at the Palestra) but there is not much variation in probability across the set of games - which speaks volumes to what Temple and St. Joe’s lost from their roster after last season. The four games will be played between 29 Nov and 13 Dec - so we will know these results soon enough.
Though Lafayette, American and College of Charleston are certainly not “cupcake” programs, all three of these games are at the Pavilion and it would be quite surprising to see the Cats lose one of them.
The games against Purdue, Notre Dame and Virginia will be more telling. A sweep indicates 'Nova is likely on a trajectory to secure a 1 or 2 seed again in the NCAAs. Even a 2-1 record could yield that outcome. A 1-2 or 0-3 record in this group of games would tell a different story. But, again, if the team is showing improvement each month as these games are contested (Nov, Dec, Jan) there is no reason for alarm. Kenpom gives the Cats a 36% chance of running the table in these 3 games. The Purdue game has a 40% chance of being a loss for ‘Nova. 2-1 or 1-2 are the most likely results from this set of games.
When it comes to conference play, Kenpom lists Villanova with 80% win probability or greater in 12 of the 18 games. The six most likely losses are: @Creighton, @Butler, @Marquette, @Georgetown, @Xavier, and @Seton Hall. Though Kenpom predicts ‘Nova finishing 15-3 in the Big East this season, it is probably safe to bound expectations by saying a true “brightsider” would predict 16-2 (again) and a guarded, pessimist would not rule out the possibility of 13-5.
For the sake of argument (and coming to a projected record) let’s call it 14-4 in the Big East, add it to 4-0 in the Big 5, 3-0 against the other OOC opponents, 3-0 by taking care of business in the Charleston Classic, 2-1 against Purdue/ND/UVA, throw in one wild card loss along the way and predict the Cats at 25-6 entering the Big East Tournament in March. It could certainly end up plus or minus a couple games from that (something between 23-8 and 28-3) but this is within a reasonable expectation (especially if you believe some momentum exists for a program with an average record of 32.3 wins and 4.3 losses over the last three seasons).
Additional milestones to watch for this season:
- Win #18 will be #1,700 all-time for the Cats
- Win #24 will be #500 for Coach Jay Wright in his career (Hofstra & 'Nova)
- Villanova goes for a third straight, 30-win season (amazing given it would be only the 4th ever for the program)
- Villanova goes for a fourth straight, Big East regular season championship (and would become the 1st team ever to win 4 straight)
- Villanova has never been ranked in the final AP Poll four consecutive seasons - more impressively, the Cats could finish in the Top 6 for four straight seasons!
- 1938-1941 is the only four-year stretch of .800 or better winning percentage seasons in program history - these Cats could tie that streak this season.
- If the Cats can sweep the Big 5 and win the games by 71 points or more combined - it will result in the Senior class not only having won all 16 Big Five games in their career but having done so by an average victory margin of 20 points.
- With 21 wins, the Seniors surpass last years Seniors as the winningest Villanova class ever.
- The 'Nova class with the highest winning percentage ever was the Class of 1941 (.833) - the Seniors are at 97-13 (.882) … we will monitor this one!
- 11 wins are needed in the BE regular season for this group of Seniors to win more BE regular season games than any other class at Villanova.
- 12 wins between regular season and BET combined are needed to surpass last year for most overall BE wins of any flavor.
- With 13 Big East wins combined between regular season and BET, the Villanova Class of 2017 will have more Big East wins than any class ever at any Big East school
- Josh Hart needs 174 rebounds to become the all-time leading rebounder from the guard position in ‘Nova history.
- Hart also has a good shot at becoming the 14th Cat with 800+ career rebounds (needs 218).
- Hart needs 752 points to get to 2K. If he gets 617 points, he will pass Ed Pinckney and place 10th on the all-time career scoring list. Only 10 VU players have reached 1800 (552 points needed by Hart) and only 12 players have reached 1700 (452 needed).
It also warrants mentioning that Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are both in position to have seasons worthy of All-American team selections/recognition. You have to go back to the A-Ray and Randy Foye duo to find as highly regarded a set of 'Nova teammates nationally entering a season.
Stay tuned to VUSports throughout the season for everything Villanova basketball!